Cayenne, French Guiana – Scientists have confirmed the presence of a new breeding and feeding area for humpback whales in French Guiana. The region is threatened by oil exploration by BP. The British energy giant is currently attempting to gain the environmental license to drill near the so-called Amazon Reef off the northern coast of Brazil, where an oil spill could devastate nearby waters and habitats including those of French Guiana. Last year, the French company Total had its license to drill near the Amazon Reef denied, but BP could start drilling as soon as this year.

Academics from the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in collaboration with Greenpeace France, documented for the first time humpback whales with their young and tropical whales feeding in their natural environment of French Guiana waters. [1]

Olivier Van Canneyt, marine biologist at the CNRS, said:

“This expedition confirms that the region is more than a migratory route for some species; for the first time, we have seen tropical whales feeding in this area. We also observed humpback whales with their young; their presence confirms that it is also a vital place of breeding and breastfeeding. French Guiana waters are a crucial place for the survival of many cetacean species.”

The region is also a migratory route for whales, sea turtles and other marine species. During two weeks of the expedition on the continental slope, that descends from 200 to 2000 meters deep, scientists have also been able to observe several different species of marine megafauna, such as sailfishes, spotted dolphins, false killer whales, pygmy killer whales and marine birds as Audubon’s petrel. [2] For the first time, the Bryde’s Rorquals, silky sharks and Melon Head dolphins have been filmed and photographed in their natural environment in French Guiana.

Edina Ifticène, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, said:

“It doesn’t make any sense to drill for oil in such a critical environment, an oil spill could have irreversible consequences for the entire area. It is imperative to better understand these ecosystems before considering any kind of industrial activity. These findings show how important it is to put in place effective conservation measures and, above all, to have a strong Global Treaty for the oceans.”

The third of four rounds of negotiations towards a Global Ocean Treaty concluded at the UN in August without serious commitment from most countries. A strong treaty could provide the legal framework for the protection of international waters, making possible the creation of fully-protected Marine Protected Areas, or ‘ocean sanctuaries’, free from harmful human activities. Greenpeace is calling for a network of ocean sanctuaries covering at least a third of the world’s oceans by 2030. The same target was called for by scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Photo and video:

For a free-to-use collection of the scientific expedition to French Guiana see here.

Notes:

[1] Pole to Pole Expedition: Greenpeace is sailing from the Arctic to the Antarctic, undertaking groundbreaking research and investigations, to highlight the many threats facing the oceans and to campaign for a Global Ocean Treaty covering all seas outside of national waters.

[2] Observation Map of the marine megafauna spotted in French Guiana during the September 2019 expedition here.

Edina Ifticène is an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace France

 

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